Throughout the 200-odd years since Mozart’s last major opera, The Magic Flute, was premiered in Vienna on September 30, 1791 (coincidentally, the day which, at midnight, ushered in, thanks to the machinations of a real-life “Monostatos” and his cohorts, the recent lockout of players by the Minnesota Orchestra), there has been scarcely a music critic anywhere who hasn’t felt comfortable and probably had a good laugh taking potshots at the libretto. Not to be outdone, the curiously anti-Mozart movie Amadeus decried the magic flute, magic bells, etc, as ridiculous. Perhaps we should ask the MO’s own Sir Neville Marriner about this, as he was involved with it! The point of the objections seem to be that nobody on the planet should take the libretto seriously, unless they want to join the tin-hat UFO believers, or perhaps those who believe JFK was killed by a conspiracy! In short, it is just not musically-correct to look at the libretto of this opera with an objective eye, much less try to determine what a genius such as Mozart was thinking of when he agreed to it.
Here is one example of a typical ‘analysis’, at a musical website:
I have emailed them to let them know that them analysis is a little shortsighted. That will probably get a chuckle too.
One character in the opera though, who, to my mind, is severely undeveloped, is that of the snake that appears in the opening scene. It is so terrifying that Tamino faints, and the handmaidens of the Queen of the Night have to kill it for him. Then, of course, the feathered Papageno enters into the fray, claiming that it was he who was the hero. A charming scene, no doubt; but somehow Wolf seemed to be missing the point! This is a terrifying creature. It might have better been described as a dragon than as a snake. However, there is, in the Bible, a great and terrifying snake — it is called Leviathan, and is found in the book of Job. Leviathan represents an evil spirit, or presence, that entwines itself in our faith and in our finances, and seeks to work ill in both. In fact, one of the most difficult and torturous areas of Christian life seems to be just that — being grounded in faith while not being devoured by a love of money.
In my life, having lived through this opera, viewing it from the inside, I can say without a doubt that this snake is possibly the most powerful long-term character in the opera. In fact, it is the snake, or dragon, that gives power to the Queen of the Night and to Monostatos. This Leviathan has insinuated itself into the lives of everyone I know, trying to get them to turn against Gd’s will for them. And, as I am aware of how some of the characters ‘should’ act, it has been incredibly distressing to watch them ‘morph’ into something ugly.
So, when we decide to take a look at the libretto to Die Zauberflote again, perhaps we might at least give pause, and acknowledge that, perhaps, there is some sort of mystery here? Something beyond our simple understanding?
Just a thought…:-)
M4B=Mozart For Believers